While the UK patiently awaits the Government’s Online Safety Bill to come to fruition, tens of thousands of grooming crimes have been recorded by police. The Bill was initially due to be rolled out this autumn, but has encountered a number of delays and amendments since it was proposed in the form of legislation.
Now, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) is urging tech firms and Members of Parliament to support the Bill as soon as possible, after 34,000 cases of online grooming have been recorded by police across the UK in the last six years. It comes after more robust safety regulations were initially called for back in 2017.
The NSPCC said on data accrued by 42, that 6,350 offences relating to sexual communications with a child were recorded. 5,500 of these took place against primary-school children, with a whopping 73 per cent related to Meta-owned platforms and Snapchat.
Almost 2,000 of the crimes were recorded by police spanning the North East. Durham Constabulary have recorded 450 since 2017, while Cleveland Police recorded 749 and Northumbria saw 788 respectively – a total figure of 1,987 when combined.
Speaking on the harrowing data, NSPCC chief executive, Sir Peter Wanless, said: “The number of offences must serve as a reminder of why the Online Safety Bill is so important and why the ground-breaking protections it will give children are desperately needed. We’re pleased the government has listened and strengthened the legislation so companies must tackle how their sites contribute to child sexual abuse in a tough but proportionate way, including in private messaging.”
Here are a number of red flags that parents should look out for with regards to their child’s online safety.
Children being secretive about how they are spending their time –
Childline defines grooming on their website as someone building a child’s trust to make a connection, in order to carry out sexual or illegal acts. Mark Bentley, who is a safeguarding and cyber security lead at The National Grid for Learning (LGfL), said: “Studies show parental supervision typically declines as children get older, however online abuse does not.”
From being secretive about how they’re spending to time, to changes in behaviour – all children can be different. But it’s worth being mindful as to how your child behaves when they start consuming more and more social media.
Bentley, added: “Unfortunately, as in many areas of child protection, indicators of abuse can often mirror natural markers of growing up. As children and adolescents develop, they seek independence from parents, engage in risk taking and have changes in mood and friendship group.
“Nonetheless, these markers remain vital to watch out for, even if it is just to support your growing child. Those who are being groomed online are much more likely to be defensive and secretive about phone usage and loathed to be separated from their device.”
Unexpected gifts –
Buying gifts for kids can be a grooming technique used to gain trust and flatter children – however, this is an incredibly dangerous and manipulative ploy. Bentley, added: “Some groomers have been known to provide alternative phones just to contact them, and this is always a red flag if you suspect your child may have a secondary device.”
Your child is spending too much time online –
Simon Newman, member of International Cyber Expo’s advisory council and CEO of the Cyber Resilience Centre for London, said: “Of course, some of these [red] flags can also be a sign of the child going through adolescence but it’s important to discuss any unusual behaviour with them as soon as possible. The way groomers target children varies, but is often done through social media sites, text messages and apps, emails or online forums – particularly gaming sites.”
Your child develops a friendship with someone far older –
The NSPCC detail how children can be groomed by complete strangers, as well as people they know – like friends’ parents, professionals, and even their own family members. Bentley, added: “There are various models of the stages of grooming, but at heart it revolves around building up trust and making a child feel understood and listened to in a way they do not feel elsewhere, and then breaking down the links of trust to family, school, friends and other adults.
“Any parent thinking that this might be happening should definitely reach out for help.”News